I called my niece, Annie, at the University of Vermont on 9/11 to see how she was doing. I was concerned how she would be affected by such an unbelievable tragedy. At a time when she is in the process of determining her own place in the world, to have the world rendered so drastically uncertain and terrible seemed like it might be quite overwhelming. She was shocked, upset and worried just like I was, but she was also absolutely certain about one thing. She had to go to New York and do something. She didn't know what she would do, but she had to go down there and do something. When I asked her why, she said: "I have to help."
Last week Annie stood at the entrance to Firehouse 1010 directly across from the entrance to Ground Zero, looking through the gate at the scene of incomprehensible devastation and loss. She was there to help.
For the past four months, Annie has been organizing an 'Alternative Winter Break' for herself and ten other students. She got in touch with an organization called Ground Zero Food Services and arranged to have her group volunteer as food service workers to feed and comfort the relief crews who continue to sift through the wreckage of the Twin Towers. She then wrangled 11 round-trip plane tickets from a company called Jet Blue and got permission to use the 15th street apartment of a family she used to baby-sit for. She also collected donations for meal money, although most of their meals were taken care of by the food service. That meant they had a little spending money for their off-hours. After all they are college students on winter break.
About a month ago, Annie asked me if I knew anyone in town who might be able to hook her up with some free entertainment, so she could treat her crew to some fun to balance the hard work. In fact I did know somebody like that. I called Beck Lee and gave him the full story and he was instantly on board. He was impressed with Annie's initiative and naturally taken with the cause. Plus, Beck has the connections -- he knows everyone and everything that's going on and usually has a backstage pass. He wasn't sure what he could do, but he was sure he would work something out.
I spoke with Annie a few times during the week she was in New York and it was clear that she was in the midst of a life-changing experience. The work, the people, the memory of what happened, and of course the city itself gave her and her companions an indelible lesson in the tremendous adventure the world has to offer to those who dare to live with passion and courage.
At the end of the week, the group was treated to a four-star French dinner at Chez Josephine, a restaurant owned by the son of Josephine Baker, courtesy of Beck Lee. Annie said it was the best meal she's ever eaten and the owner Jean-Claude was so completely charming they wanted to take him home. It was a fitting reward for their week of service and I was extremely pleased that Beck was able to be a part of Annie's endeavor.
This week, Annie turns 21. I can't imagine a better start on her journey from dreamer to doer than the one she's given herself. The other day I was talking to my sister Cindy about her amazing daughter and we both agreed: When we grow up we want to be just like Annie.
Happy Birthday Annie.
Happy New Year to everyone.